Ion Assault Review (PC)

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Ion Assault was originally released last year on XBox Live Arcade and today headed on over to Steam for its PC debut. Its 360 release must have been a low key affair as I used to look for any new game on the marketplace to give it a try and missed this. With a year passing since then, I pondered on what appeared to be the amalgamation of Asteroids and Geometry Wars. As with all games I review here, I started off with the blurb sent to me with the game. Reading through this I wondered just what I had got myself into. Nano Particles and smart particle suction were the key buzz words that jumped out. Luckily for us the concept is easy to grasp.

The game is based in a series of stages each with 5 sectors and a boss level at the end with the aim of each level being to clean out each sector. Each sector is full of asteroids, monsters, and space dust; Ion particles to be precise. Your ship is essentially a hoover that sucks up all the nearby Ion surrounding your ship and allows you to propel it at speed to break the aforementioned asteroids and monsters. The more that you suck into your ship, the faster and harder you can fire them however the slower you move. This is handled easily by simply holding down the left mouse button to inhale, point the beam at something you want to break by moving the mouse and then release the button to fire it all off. The WASD keys handle the ship movement across the screen.

Whilst the sectors look plentiful, Ion however is limited. The sector initially starts with the space dust spread throughout the zone, however as you start firing it off towards things, you begin to empty parts of the zone of Ion and it doesn’t respawn. It stays where you shot it. After some panic shooting at some monster coming to get you, you will normally find yourself having piles of Ion sitting in the corners of the zone meaning you will have to make a dash over there and collect some more. It gives the game a little bit of a strategical edge as you have to learn to conserve Ion and plan your shots. You can also collect floating power-ups that can boost your radius of suction or will drop a drone that pulls all the Ion towards it impacting on anything in its path.

Whilst it does take a little bit of getting used to, you will soon learn how to manoeuvre around asteroids firing Ion into it causing it to explode before sucking the Ion back into your ship and jetting back off again. This is what the game is good at allowing you to do and also where it lets itself down a little. Once you learn the basics, you are rarely challenged. Whilst each sector seems to have its own monsters, once you learn how to beat them you will start plowing through sectors. With just over 20 sectors, the gameplay length is severely hampered. I finished the first stage in under 10 minutes on my first try and while the difficulty does increase, there are only a few levels that challenge you until the final stage.

Once the campaign is finished there is Survival Mode. The premise behind this is to survive as long as possible facing increasingly harder waves to get the highest time on the Leaderboard for all to see. Whilst you can track your score against your friends and random joe online, you cannot play online with them. The 360 version had co-op and versus modes as well as a base battle mode. All of these features are messing from the PC version making it a very lonely experience. The only reason I could possibly see for this is that it would be too hard trying to track all the particles on both machines but in the age of broadband that reasoning is flimsy indeed.

Being a Steam exclusive means achievements and Ion Assault has 18 to unlock. Most of these are based upon getting to a certain points value in a game mode but there are a few that require a little thought such as completing a sector in under a certain time or avoiding the use of power ups.

Closing Comments:

A good game with a somewhat unique premise is hampered by a short campaign. Controls are easy to master but could have taken a leaf out of Geometry Wars book with its targetting system. In fact given that this was a 360 release, controller support would have been appreciated as it can be a little difficult to aim sometimes. Removal of multiplayer also seems a mistake in my book and one that will probably shorten the game life significantly. However even with its shortcomings, it was a fun experience which is easy to pick up and play for anybody looking to try something different.

Overall Score : 55/100 (Slightly below average)

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